|Iran neutralizes stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium: IAEA||
Iran has moved to neutralize its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium under an interim nuclear deal reached with the major powers last year, according to a monthly update by the UN nuclear watchdog obtained by Reuters on Sunday.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that Iran had met the terms of the six-month agreement, under which it scaled down its nuclear activities in exchange for some easing of sanctions.
The preliminary accord was due to expire on Sunday but was extended with some adjustments, after Iran and the major powers failed during negotiations in Vienna to meet a self-imposed July 20 deadline for a long-term deal to end the decade-old nuclear standoff and agreed to continue talking.
The four-month extension underlines the difficulties negotiators face in settling the dispute permanently even if Iran has met its commitments under the initial agreement, as Sunday’s IAEA report suggests.
The six major powers - the United States, France, China, Russia, Germany and Britain - want Iran to significantly reduce its uranium enrichment program to make sure it cannot produce nuclear bombs. Iran says it is peaceful and wants sanctions to be lifted as soon as possible.
Under the accord reached in Geneva on Nov. 24, designed to buy time for talks on a comprehensive solution, Iran halted the most controversial aspect of its nuclear program - enrichment of uranium gas to a fissile concentration of 20 percent.
It also undertook to dilute or convert to oxide its remaining stockpile of the material - nearly 210 kg - during the half-year period, which Sunday’s IAEA report showed it had now completed.
Iran says it is only refining uranium to fuel nuclear power plants or research reactors, not to develop a nuclear weapons capability as the West suspects.
The IAEA update also showed that Iran had started up a facility to convert some of its lower-grade enriched uranium gas into oxide and had fed about 1,500 kg of the material into the conversion process, as agreed in November.
As the IAEA confirmed in a series of monthly updates since the agreement took effect on Jan. 20 that Iran lived up to its part of the deal, the Islamic Republic has gradually gained access to some of its frozen cash held abroad.
After Sunday’s IAEA report, it looked set to receive a last installment of $550 million out of a total of $4.2 billion over the half-year period. During the extra four-month period it will receive an additional $2.8 billion for continuing to comply with the interim deal and for undertaking some new measures, including turning 20 percent uranium oxide into nuclear fuel.
U.S. officials say Iran still has more than $100 billion in foreign assets which it has problems accessing due to financial sanctions imposed in recent years over its nuclear program.
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